Over 50 years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song telling us, “The times, they are a changin’.” I was 13 years old when that song came out. I could never have imagined how true the song written by that troubadour would become.
As a young boy, I just about had the run of Germantown, Ohio. All of us kids living at that time in our history could roam about the neighborhood, the town or the entire township without worry or concern.
Oh, sure, we had rules. Adults kept their eyes on us wherever we ran. We still had to be home before the street lights came on. Shouts, bells and whistles took the place of jungle drums; communicating to us over long distances. We would come running.
My Mom employed the classic two-pinky-fingered whistle that could be heard from Orchard Avenue to Elm Street and anywhere on Maple Street. As soon as anyone heard that high, shrill whistle, they knew the Riley kids were on their way home.
I was always proud of Mom for her great whistle. I was in my twenties before I mastered it, but that was in plenty of time to use it to signal Josh and Danny to hurry home. All the kids in the Southridge subdivision knew when those two Riley kids would be heading for home.
During the day, we were rarely spent time in the house. In fact, we were rarely in anyone’s house. Daytime TV in the 1960s was no better than it is today. Back then we only received two channels compared to the hundreds we get today, but quantity certainly doesn’t equate into quality.
At least we had Captain Kangaroo to listen to while we did our morning chores. That’s right. We did chores. All of our friends did chores. No chores, no allowance. That was the rule. I was not allowed outside until I had made my bed, cleaned up our room, helped with the breakfast dishes and (my least favorite) scrubbed the bathroom. When we thought we might be finished and ready to go outside to play, Mom would double-check our work.
You could not trick that woman. She would look behind the bathroom stool for spots on the floor. If there were spots on the floor or the hint of a ring on the tub, I had to start all over again. Comet cleanser was my friend. All four Riley kids soon learned the logic of “doing the job right the first time.”
But as soon as we had done our choirs to Mom’s satisfaction, we were free to run and roam. Many days Mom would help me pack a sack-lunch so that my friend, Steve, and I could stay out almost all day long. We would run the half-mile through the edge of the cornfield to Twin Creek. There were always trees to climb, rocks to skip, forts to build and snakes to catch. On most days, we would end up at our favorite swimming hole where we would happily skinny dip before heading home. Life was great.
When we got a little older, we would hop on our bikes and peddle for miles and for hours around the outskirts of town. We always had a basket on the front of our bikes where we deposited all the pop bottles and beer bottles we could find. The IGA store on the western edge of town gladly gave us two-cents each for our bottles. With 20 cents, we would buy a candy bar and brand new bottle of RC Cola. Life was great.
I saw a disturbing video on Facebook a few weeks ago. The interviewer was asking young kids, boys and girls, about how much time they spend on their iPads and laptop computers. Many of these youngsters claim to be “online” all day long. Several of them made it sound like a “badge of honor” that they never go outside. They claim to always stay inside and play games online. Many of them stated, “I would die without my iPad.”
Times have changed and definitely not for the better. We need to get the kids outdoors. They need to learn the joy of playing baseball without coaches and without enough players. They need to learn what a “ghost runner” is. They need to hop from rock to rock in a creek bed and know the joy of slipping into the water on a hot summer day.
No child should be left indoors when there is such a big, beautiful outdoors for them to explore.